Composer James McConnel is Helping Addicts Recover with ‘Addicts’ Symphony’

on Tuesday, 30 September 2014. Posted in Breaking News

Music can be a powerful therapeutic tool, as it has the power to help soothe as well as facilitate the expression of emotion. Listening to music can guide you through various feelings, and allow you to express or think about what you currently feel.

Playing music helps even more, as it provides a medium for artistically and non-verbally expressing thoughts and feelings. Composer James McConnel decided to utilize the healing power of music while also showing the widespread problem of addiction in classical musicians in a new documentary, "Addicts Symphony."

Documenting an Unknown Problem

The documentary recently aired on Channel 4 in Britain. It chronicles 10 professional classical musicians who have struggled with drugs or alcohol addiction preparing for playing a one-off concert event with the London Symphony Orchestra. Some of the musicians have been sober for years, others for a few months.

The drugs of choice for the participants varied. Some imbibed in just alcohol, others mixed drugs and alcohol, and the drugs of choice included cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, beta-blockers, and other prescription medication.

During the documentary, they share their story of why they abused and how they overcome their problems. The film follows the musicians through the rehearsals leading up to the performance, as well as going into their personal back stories and group therapy sessions.

It ends with a performance of Beethoven's' Seventh Symphony with the London Symphony Orchestra.

Drugs and Alcohol and Classical Music

Professional musicians have long been associated with drug and alcohol problems, but people tend to only think about rock and roll musicians, rather than classical musicians. The connotation that classical music is cultured and high-class seems to put it at odds with drugs and alcohol.

Although classical musicians may not have the reputation for a wild party lifestyle of rock and roll musicians, many still undergo similar experiences that increase their risk of having a problem.

Many classical musicians turn to drugs and alcohol to reduce performance anxiety. They also use it to control their feelings of inadequacy or other insecurities, despite their enormous talent. Anxiety to live up to the expectation for their talent can also lead to addiction.

Drugs and alcohol also act as a way to relieve stress. Performing itself is also a high, which can be hard to come down from and relax. Drinking can provide relaxation and become a sleep aid, and it can soon turn into a habit that leads to a problem.

The musicians work odd hours and weekends, and often go out after concerts and socialize, which can turn into binge drinking events.

James McConnel's Desire to Help Others

James McConnel, no stranger to addiction himself, leads the Addicts Symphony. He experienced addiction problems when he was young, but was able to overcome them and remain sober for decades.

However, his son followed in his footsteps and was not as lucky. Freddy McConnel died at age 18, which became the catalyst for the elder McConnel's commitment to this project.

McConnel found help for his addiction through his music, and he wants to share that with others.

McConnel shared, "Before he died, Freddy said: 'Dad will you look into the idea of music being an aid to recovery?' If he hadn't taken a dodgy dose of heroin, he might have got to that point. Music can give you the same feeling that drugs can, only better. I cannot see why it couldn't work for other people."

Although this documentary focuses on one certain group, the power of music to heal can work for everyone. Recovering addicts need a way to express themselves and learn to cope with the strong emotions and feelings that they feel.

Music can be one way to channel these feelings, helping an addict to remain strong in their recovery.

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